Anton Schwartz combines emotional immediacy & abstract intelligence in his ‘Flash Mob’
“I always aim to write the music I’d like to hear. A lot of great music out there doesn’t hold my attention the way Stevie Wonder does. I like music that goes someplace. I write for my own impoverished attention span, and it seems to serve me well.”
Anton Schwartz splits his time between Seattle and San Francisco, gigging and hosting his Loft Concerts. A thinking man’s musician — the New York City-born/Hell’s Kitchen-raised Math genius and near-Ph.D grad in Artificial Intelligence — Schwartz also converts his vast experiences onstage, around so many famous and talented personnel, into deeply sound recordings.
Schwartz’s music appeals to his own sense of urgency and creative restlessness. “I always aim to write the music I’d like to hear,” explained the tenor saxophonist/composer. “A lot of great music out there doesn’t hold my attention the way Stevie Wonder does. I like music that goes someplace. I write for my own impoverished attention span, and it seems to serve me well.”
On his new album “Flash Mob,” that “impoverished attention span” takes the listener to some far out places, fast. The self-produced (out on his Antonjazz label) “Flash Mob” was released January 28, 2014 on CD and HDtracks, in high-resolution 96kHz 24-bit digital. It’s the fifth CD since his 1998 debut, “When Music Calls,” and his first, new recording in seven years. All but two of the 11 tracks come straight from Schwartz — grasping at divergent but harmonious styles and working the ever-present melody with an astute understanding of movement that make sense in the head and the heart. The two covers are dense works of art by Kenny Dorham and Thelonious Monk, laid bare.
Schwartz employs a team of outstanding session players, guys he’s worked with and admired greatly: Grammy-nominated pianist Taylor Eigsti, Bay Area drummer Lorca Hart, Schwartz’s recording constant, South Bay bassist John Shifflett, and New York trumpeter/flugelhornist Dominick Farinacci. In fact, Schwartz and his band are currently out on a West Coast tour for the record, with the East Coast in their sights.
“What I require for music to really captivate me is groove and intellect working in tandem. Music that gets into your bones, into your head and into your heart,” Schwartz said. If this is his sole requirement, Schwartz has nailed it on “Flash Mob,” from beginning to fade.
He puts together some crazy, but pleasing combinations that work. “Pangur Ban” came out of Schwartz’s fascination with Celtic Irish music and some Monk in the melody, undercut with a New Orleans “big four groove.” Obviously a brass centerpiece, Schwartz makes room for piano in this big, bold be bop loop — and Eigsti doesn’t disappoint. His solo traipses all over the top and bottom layers of the groove and harmony, condensed into this graphic whole. Eigsti gets Schwartz’s philosophy down cold, the fluid tempo, the blood pressure spikes, the sudden, rapid rabbit holes, and a strange attraction to combustible tension.
“Cumulonimbus” is insane. It’s perhaps the best track off this album, in the success of Schwartz’s marriage of crazy grooves and intelligent design. Playing with tempo to the extreme, Schwartz and his band jam cumulatively as they take solo sideswipes at the broad-reaching melody. At about the 2:12 mark, Schwartz and Eigsti take the harmonic pulse in larger and larger breaks, cutting upward, teasing the convergence, perusing the most remote vestiges of melody, laying ever-more complicated tracks. Again Eigsti’s piano solo threatens to overtake the whole proceeding.
“Spurious Causes” gives each member of the band plenty of time to make the song his own, from the opening, cavernous percussive streak, to the ever-present piano and bass lines spurting up from the over-growth, to Schwartz’s tenor sax bolting for the hills. This one eases back somewhat, takes its time, and enjoys the intimate jazz atmospherics — easily played before the main event. Eigsti then adds a little classical ballet flair at around 2:05 with Schwartz and Farinacci that almost brings up a big band bombastic. A surprise around every corner.
In Kenny Dorham’s blissfully idyllic, 20-measure ballad, “La Mesha,” Schwartz leaned on Joe Henderson’s version from his 1963 Blue Note debut, “Page One,” and bowed out of the headlining solo, so Farinacci could fill the trumpet lines with the necessary tones and arches of such a delicate, moody tune. Farinacci lays in bed with the melody, side by side, gently coaxing out moments, losing the trumpet’s normally boxy, brassy bull in a china shop rampage for an almost piano/strings dance. His 3:48 solo melts into the warmest, soothing articulation, hovering at times in brooding, introspective review.
Anton Schwartz’s “Flash Mob” contains brilliant bursts of detours, always experimenting with time, movement, transition, and of course, melody. This is an artist who questions where the notes would usually go, then goes another way — righteously jazz.
Artist quotes from a press release. Review first appeared in Examiner March 10, 2014.